Last Updated on December 4, 2019 by TFM Staff
Cardiovascular exercise is a great way to improve your aerobic capacity, lose body fat and reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases. There are a variety of exercise machines which you can choose from in the gym but, arguably, two of the best are the rowing machine and the elliptical machine (or cross trainer). Even if you’re a fit and healthy person you can still find great benefits from both of these machines. That said, is one style of workout superior to the other overall? We’ll pit the rowing machine vs the elliptical to help you decide.
It’s All in the Technique
First, there is definitely more of a technique involved with rowing than with the elliptical machine. The elliptical machine can be hard to grasp at first but after a few sessions you easily pick up the knack. It’s essentially running with more resistance and a fixed range of motion – unlike the treadmill – working your entire body with more emphasis.
Rowing Machine Motion
With the rowing machine, however, the bar that you pull is not fixed in place. It can go up, down and side to side meaning that you need to implement proper technique to avoid injury and get the most benefits. Correct rowing technique involves a four strep process while maintaining a rigid and straightened back:
- Pushing with your legs
- Pulling with your arms and back
- Relaxing the arms and back to bring the bar back to the starting position
- Relaxing the legs to bring your body back to the starting position
If you look at the people who actually use the rowing machine in the gym then you’ll notice that a lot of them are doing it incorrectly. They’ll violently pull with their back, not pull enough or complete the steps in the wrong order. Learning how to use the rowing machine correctly requires one or two lessons from a certified trainer to teach you how to complete the exercise properly therefore presenting you with a barrier. If you’re shy or simply want to dive in straight away, the rowing machine can be a real obstacle.
You should not let this stop you, though, as once you have learned the proper technique then the rowing machine can provide many advantages that are not included with exercise on the elliptical machine.
For instance, the rowing machine heavily trains the back and arms which tend to be weak areas for many people. As we spend most of our time hunched over a desk then our chests become tight, are lower back becomes weak and develop a very curved posture. The rowing machine trains all of the muscles that help counter these issues. The motions that you go through on the rowing machine are very similar to that of a dead lift (picking up a heavy weight from the floor) yet it trains the muscles of the upper back – the traps, rhomboid and posterior deltoids – much more. This will strengthen the areas around your spine and, if completed correctly, help with functional movement in your everyday life and prevent injuries common as we grow older. The advantages to the core found in rowing are far superior to that found on the elliptical machine. There are many times that we complete a motion similar to the movements needed for rowing but little times we move similar to that on the cross trainer/elliptical machine.
Ellipticals vs Rowing Machines – Different Benefits
Rowing machines, though they offer more benefits for the musculature, do not offer the same benefits for your bones/skeletal system. If you suffer from osteoporosis then light, weight bearing activity on the elliptical machine can really help. It can slow down the rate of mineral loss in your legs, lower back and hips. The rowing machine, as there is more weight involved, can be dangerous in old age for some people. That doesn’t mean avoid rowing, it simply means that you should check with your doctor before jumping into such exercises.
Also, as the rowing machine places a lot of emphasis on the upper back and biceps (fronts of the arm), it unfortunately means that there is no stimulus to the chest and triceps (backs of the arm). The cross trainer does not train these areas very much but it does place equal emphasis across all of the muscles used.
Finally, the amount of calories burned in an hour long session is higher on the rowing machine. Due to the amount of work that your glutes, core, back and arms must do, the rowing machine burns about 800 calories per hour. The elliptical machine is only slightly less, though, at 700 calories per hour on average. These figures are obviously dependent on the amount of work that you put in and how much effort you exert but if you’re looking to lose some fat and can only dedicate a certain amount of time to one machine then you’re best bet is to hop on the rowing machine.
In conclusion, the best machine will depend on you as an individual. If you suffer from a tight chest and weak back then the rowing machine will be the best option. Yet, if you’re after a more gentle workout for your whole body then the elliptical machine/cross-trainer might be more suited to you. At the end of the day, the rewards that you get from either machine will come from the amount of effort that you put in. As long as you’re trying your hardest and pushing yourself just a little then the machine you choose will have a very small difference on your results.